A worker is shown sanitizing pilgrims' luggage at a Mecca hotel on July 26 in this government handout photo. (Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umra/AFP via Getty Images)

Pilgrims Begin Arriving for ‘Hajj,’ Which Starts Wednesday

Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving in the holy city of Mecca for this year’s hajj, which gets underway on Wednesday in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. Saudi Arabian authorities say participation is being limited to people already in the country, one-third of them citizens and the rest non-citizens, with ceilings ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 people for an event that regularly attracts over 2.5 million, some 80% of them from abroad. The country’s borders have been closed to foreigners since the spring. Participants must prove they are not infected with the coronavirus before arriving in Mecca and will have to enter quarantine once the pilgrimage is over. While in the holy city, they will be required to wear facemasks in public and maintain social distancing. Rather than using stones retrieved from the ground, as is usually done, they will be allowed to participate in the ritual stoning of Satan only with pebbles that have been sterilized and prepackaged for this specific purpose. Saudi Arabia has been hard-hit by the pandemic, with some 267,000 cases and 2,733 deaths as of Sunday.

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